LAST MODIFIED Wednesday 10 April 2019 7:44

Lewis Henry Lavenu

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "Lewis Henry Lavenu", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):; accessed 19 May 2019

LAVENU, Lewis Henry (M. Lavenu; Mr. L. H. LAVENU)

Pianist, cellist, conductor, arranger, composer

Born London, c.1818
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 11 May 1853 (per Abyssinia, from San Francisco, 3 March)
Died Sydney, NSW, 1 August 1859, aged 41 or 42 (TROVE tagged by Australharmony) (NLA persistent identifier)

Cover portrait of the late L. H. Lavenu

Summary (to 1853; after Wikipedia)

Son of the London music seller and publisher, Lewis Augustus Lavenu (c.1867-1818), and his second wife Eliza. After Lavenu senior's death, Eliza went into partnership with the violinist Nicolas Mori (1796-1839), whom she married in 1826. Born well before this marriage, their eldest son, the composer Frank Mori (1820-1873) was thus Lewis Henry's stepbrother. The family business traded as "Mori & Lavenu" until Lewis Henry sold his interest in it to his partner Robert Hosdon in May 1844. Lavenu, brought up in music by his stepfather, studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Bochsa, and later with Charles Lucas, George Alexander Macfarren, and Cipriani Potter in composition, cello, and piano.

Between August 1840 and January 1841 Lavenu (assisted by his half-brother Frank) managed Liszt's tours of the British Isles. Lavenu married Julia Blossett, daughter of Col. John Blossett, head of the British expedition to assist Simon Bolivar in the war of independence in Venezuela. One of his daughters was the actress Ethel Lavenu (1842-1917), who was mother of the silent screen actor Tyrone Power, Sr., and grandmother of the Hollywood film star Tyrone Power.

In November 1846, Lavenu's Loretta; a tale of Seville, a grand opera in three parts with libretto by Alfred Bunn, premiered at Drury Lane Theatre, with Anna Bishop as Loretta. After falling into insolvency in 1848, Lavenu became the conductor of the Irish singer Catherine Hayes, first in Britain, briefly in the United States (1851-53), and finally Australia.

Britain and Ireland (c.1817/18 - September 1851)

Liszt, Lavenu, Mori concert program (16 September 1840)

"DRURY-LANE THEATRE", London Evening Standard (10 November 1846), 1

A grand opera, called Loretta, a Tale of Seville, was brought out at this theatre last night. It is the first operatic production of Mr. Lavenu, the son-in-law of the late M. Mori, with whom he was for a while in parmership in Bond-street. Acting upon the advice of his celebrated relative, he became a pupil of the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied the pianoforte, the violoncello, and composition, principally under the guidance of Bochsa, in each of which acquirements he made considerable proficiency. When Mori died Mr. Lavenu left the Academy, and confined himself almost exclusively to the management of the business in Bond-street, speculating, it will be remembered, to a large extent, in the autumn journeyings of foreign artists in the provinces. For some years past he has been living in retirement, and beyond publishing a few songs of but trifling importance has made little or no sign in the musical world. His leisure, however, seems to have been consumed in the revival of his musical studies, and we have now the first fruit thereof in the opera which Mr. Bunn has put into representation with all those decorative adjuncts that allure and recommend.

Before entering into any details, we may at once remark that the reception of the opera was immensely euthusia[stic], although its general execution was far from perfect - suggesting once, again, regret that in this, as in everything else of the same kind, the necessity for hasty preparation is so urgent. We have been informed that the opera was scarcely finished by the composer a week ago; consequently, the copying, the learning, and the rehearsing have all been matters of extreme and inconvenient hurry. The wonder is, that works of this magnitude, brought out under such great disadvantages, should go so smoothly as they do. Our English executants, however, are of singular expertness in these exigencies, and accomplish so much in a limited time as to greatly diminish the chances of failure; and in all these exercises of rapid acquirement - instructed no doubt by experience - they perform feats that astonish and confound foreigners. But though their ability in this way is thus frequently tested, it is almost a pity that it exists. The concerted pieces of last night, of which the opera contains an unusual number, would have told infinitely better had they been more closely and simultaneously developed. It is obvious that such large vocal, orchestral, and histrionic complications - involving the coincident readiness and address of vast numbers of people - can only be made to "go" with proper nicety by frequent preliminary trial. This, however, is a sore of long standing; and perhaps, when the necessities of the house are remembered, should hardly be alluded to; still it is to be lamented that the first night of a new opera is doomed to be scarcely aught more than a dressed rehearsal - that is, in those critical aggregates to which we have specifically alluded. The ballads, duets, and trios, &c, which fall into the hands of the principals, generally fare well enough, and upon these maybe the chief reliance is placed.

The opera opens with the bustle and revelry of a Spanish inn, and the arrival of Philippo (Borrani), a recruit on his way to join his regiment, accompanied by his old father, and his sister, Loretta (Madame Anna Bishop), who now prepare to take leave of him. A certain cavalier, Don Carlos (Harrison), breaks in with a party of roystering companions, and, full of tipsy recklessness, offers an insult to the pretty sister of the recruit, which being fiercely resented by the brother, leads to a disturbance, and the arrival of the police, in the persons of a troop of alguazils. Loretta is carried off by the audacious Carlos, and conveyed to his apartment in the palace of Don Henriquez (S. Jones), whose daughter, Florinda (Miss Poole), he is about to marry; and under the cover of night she becomes the victim of his guilty violence. In the meanwhile, love of a purer kind has taken possession of the profligate's bosom, and he becomes serious and sentimental. Taking advantage of the temporary absence of her seducer, whose rank and identity she is ignorant of, Loretta escapes through a window by means of a sash which she finds in the chamber, and the perilous process of scaling the balcony is subsequently seen by Carlos in the distance as he is coldly and uneasily associating with his betrothed wife in the festivities of a ball-room - with which tableau the first act terminates.

Before the second commences a period of five years is supposed to have elapsed. The action is transplanted to a village on the banks of the Guadalquiver, where Loretta is living in seclusion with a child of four years old, the fruit of her unlucky intimacy with the unknown Carlos. The latter coming into the neighbourhood to celebrate his nuptials with Florinda, unexpectedly encounters her, and feels all his former sentiments of affection revive. The brother of Loretta also comes, now promoted to the rank of captain; and Carlos, at first jealous of the tenderness involved in the recognition of the brother and sister, is led, by the honest impulses of his passion, when he discovers the relationship, to forget his obligations to Florinda, and offer Loretta his hand. She instinctively declines; and then the sudden appearance of the child, implying the mysterious infamy of its author, brings about an exciting dramatic collision. Philippo is furious, Loretta terrified, and Carlos perplexed; while the soldiers and villagers, ignorant of the cause of the embarrassment, espouse opposite sides; and, in the language of the libretto, a scene of the "utmost tumult prevails."

In the third act the preparations for the wedding of Carlos and Florinda are going on at Seville, in the midst of which Philippo, having been told by his sister her tale of sorrow and misfortune, comes dejected and heart-broken to lay his commission at Carlos's feet. Loretta, who accompanies him, suddenly recognises the apartment as that to which she was conveyed by her ravisher, and amid violent agitation challenges Carlos as the author of her misery, establishing the proof of his villany by the production ef a diamond rosary she had torn from the scarf which enabled her to escape. Overflowing with brotherly wrath Philippo strikes the convicted gallant. The unfortunate captain is anon condemned to death for assaulting his superior oflicer, and in the last scene is led out to execution, the prelude to a situation of powerful interest, wherein Loretta, armed with the child, frenziedly confronts her destroyer and upbraids him for his base and unrelenting cruelty; at which the better feelings of the cavalier come into play, and he contritely declares his guilt in the face of everybody. A youth named Ferdinand (King) being at his elbow to take Florinda off his hands, he gladly transfers himself to Loretta, who - having saved her brother, found a father for her child, secured a husband, and repaired her honour - naturally enough sings a brisk rondo of triumph and delight.

The music, as we have already hinted, consists of an almost ceaseless current of recitatives, trios, and ensembles. Its character is light and me!odic, exhibiting facility rather than power; while the voluble clothings of the orchestra denote skilful workmanship, and a sense of picturesque effect. If there is little absolutely original to excite the surprise, there is much to attract the fancy, and the opera - provided the second act is shortened, and some of the noise elsewhere abated - is likely to please the public. The memory is so clogged after the first hearing of a work of this length and copiousness, that it is scarcely able to refer with clearness to the better points of invention and art which may happen to have been presented, for with such a profuse abundance of "airy strains" the attention is apt to get jaded and irregular. We have, however, a distinct remembrance of a clever round for soprano and two basses, "Before this heart, my father;" a contemplative tenor ballad, "That feeling which exalts the soul;" a trying dramatic duet for soprano and tenor, "Some hopes there are;" and a soothing and reposeful quartette, marvellously like "Farewell to Lochabar" - all occurring in the first act. In the second, Loretta's romance, "On ths banks of Guadalquiver," one of the themes of the overture, is a graceful and artless gem, followed by another long dramatic duet, parts of which are of great merit. In this act there is a trio, "It is not wealth," which, though well harmonized, is nevertheless dry and uninteresting; and a sentimental ballad, "Oh, I can well believe." The notabilities of the third act consist of a romance, "Happy heart," which it is plain will make the music-sellers' fortune; a delicious morceau d'ensemble, "Do not leave;" a well-conceived dramatic scena "When pale and clouded;" and a charming closing rondo, "Ah! heart be hushed," for the prima donna. The choruses come in legions. Those of the prettiest burden may be found in the first act; and let us refer particularly to one, half pastoral and half devotional, "Around us are closing the curtains of night," which, though simple, is very fascinating. The dramatic choruses of the second act, during the progress of the rustic fete and the evening fair, are light and fluent; but the short choral passages which precede the last scene, and are combined with the principal dramatic situation, are, if we remember rightly, the most striking.

We have but small opportunity of doing justice to Madame Anna Bishop, who sang with great sweetness and effect - acting also with force and ability. Her exquisite voice, always clear and accurate, was of immense value in the concerted pieces. Her execution of the little romance in the second act, "On the banks of Guadalquiver" was faultlessly chaste, and obtained a loud encore; but her principal efforts were in the business involved in her discovery of Carlos, and her denunciation of his infamy, wherein she disclosed a far greater amount of breadth and energy than might have been looked for. The final air was a superb instance of promptitude in the art of vocal leaping and of sureness during the process. The applause which overwhelmed her here was tremendous, and she was not only vehemently encored, but has more bouquets to pick up than she could well carry. Miss Poole was also in grand repute whenever she appeared, and by her pure and excellent style of singing the romance m the third act, no less than by her frank and unaffected manner, wrung a double encore, without, we believe, a single voice being lifted up in denial. Mr. Borrani sang as he usually sings - so also Mr. Jones and Mr. Harrison. The ballads of the last-mentioned individual provoked the usual contests in the score of repetition, and angry were the struggles before the compliments produced any fruit.

The scenery and decorations betoken Mr. Bunn's liberal hand, and few stage groupings that we have seen surpass that of the village fair, with its coloured lanthorns and its busy gaiety. The singers were all called for when the curtain fell. Mr. Lavenu also appeared, led on by Harley, who presented him a bouquet with a crisp and diverting sort of politeness. Lastly, Mr. Bunn was required; and the audience were once more refreshed with a sight od an obeisance, which, like Taglioni's curtsey, is inimitable.

"LAW NOTICES, THIS DAY. INSOLVENT DEBTOR'S COURT", Morning Advertiser (22 May 1848), 4

Final Orders ... Lewis Henry Lavenu ...

[Advertisement], Liverpool Mercury (29 August 1851), 1


North America (September 1851 to March 1853)

"AMERICAN EXTRACTS", Empire (21 January 1852), 3

[News], Empire (12 May 1853), 2

Australia (May 1853 to August 1859)

"SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE", Empire (12 May 1853), 2

"SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE", The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (14 May 1853), 3 

The first part of the Abyssinia's voyage was attended with tolerable success, she getting abreast of Norfolk Island in 38 days . . . Amongst her passengers are . . . Mr. Lewis Lavenue, a composer of much note from London, who has for the last two years conducted the concerts of Miss Catherine Hayes in the United States, and arrived in San Francisco with Miska Hauser, the violinist, which gentleman will shortly follow Mr. Lavenue to Australia.

"DEATH OF LEWIS HENRY LAVENU", The Sydney Morning Herald (2 August 1859), 5

OUR readers will learn with surprise and deep regret that Mr. Lewis Henry Lavenu, the late talented Conductor of the University Festival, expired yesterday morning, at his residence, Horbury Terrace, Macquarie-street. He had been ill for some days, but owing to pressure of business, connected with the University Festival and the Prince of Wales Theatre, had neglected to take care of his health, and had even for some time omitted to take food. His illness was not at first of a dangerous character, and the symptoms - vomiting, pain, and constipation - yielded to medical treatment, but on Sunday evening a fit of an epileptic character came on; from excessive pain he became occasionally delirious, and imagined himself still conducting a musical force. Yesterday morning, however, he rallied a little, and about an hour before his death rose from his bed and expressed his determination to go to rehearsal; shortly afterwards what was considered a favourable symptom took place, and gave some slight hope; but his sufferings had been so acute, and his nervous system was so completely exhausted, that nature succumbed, and he breathed his last about 11 o'clock. Mr. Lavenu's abilities as a musician were of the highest order, and in the many musical entertainments over which it had been his lot to preside he was eminently successful; his death will prove a serious loss to the musical portion of the community, by whom his talents have been appreciated and acknowledged. At the period of his decease, he was, we believe, somewhere about 41 or 42 years of age. Mr. Lavenu was the son of the well-known publisher of music of that name, who formerly resided in Edward-street, Portman Square, and whose widow was subsequently married to Mori, the eminent violinist. By Mori the lamented subject of this notice was at an early age placed in the Royal Academy of Music, where, under the system, of tuition carried out in that admirable institution, he soon gave ample evidence of his aptitude and talent for the divine art. His abilities as a composer were displayed when still a mere youth, in his opera of Loretta - performed at the St. James's Theatre with considerable success, and he held diplomas as professor of violoncello, piano-forte, and for composition. Mr. Lavenu was very felicitous in his ballad compositions, amongst which "By the banks of Guadalquiver" and the popular "Molly Asthore" stand preeminent in the degree of favour with which they have been received by the musical public. He was the first man who brought Liszt, the great pianist, from Ratisbon, in Germany; and was at one time engaged by Biel as musical conductor through the English provinces during the tours of Grisi, Mario, and others; subsequently he was engaged as musical conductor to Miss Catherine Hayes, and travelled with her as such during that lady's professional visits, to the United States, California, Australia, and India; and we think the justice of our award will scarcely be questioned when we state that much of that lady's success may be attributed to the valuable assistance she derived from Mr. Lavenu in all matters connected with the orchestral department. In that branch of his profession he undoubtedly ranked very high; his practice as a violoncellist in the orchestra of the Academy, under Lindley, having no doubt contributed much to the acquirement of that ready tact and skill which he displayed in this difficult branch of the musical art. He was a very good pianist, his skill in that respect being chiefly confined to the unobtrusive but delicate and difficult duties of an accompanyist. His love of music was very intense, and his thorough knowledge of all its branches may be inferred from the fact that he arranged the score and adapted the opera of Il Trovatore, for a full orchestral representation, from a pianoforte copy. Up to the time of his illness he was busily engaged in arranging the operas of Rigoletto, Traviata, and Ernani; the score of the last named opera having been fully completed by him for representation. It is a somewhat singular fact that many great musicians have, shortly before death, composed those mournful strains with which their departure from this world is associated; such as Mozart's "Requiem", Weber's "Last Waltz", and many others that will be readily brought to mind; without seeking to institute any comparison we might refer to one portion of the overture to Trovatore composed by Mr. Lavenu, in which the most melancholy and plaintive strains are introduced - not suggested by the music of the opera - this, we believe, is one of his latest compositions. Mr. Lavenu was much esteemed by his professional friends, many of whom watched over him during his last hours, for his kindliness of manner, and the urbanity which always characterised his intercourse with them. It may not perhaps be deemed irrelevant to mention as a somewhat singular circumstance, that Mr. C. S. Packer, who three years ago followed to the tomb the remains of his own master in the orchestral branch of his studies at the Royal Academy of Music - the celebrated Bochsa - will, to-day, perform the same sad duty to one who was one of his own earliest pupils in the same institution. The funeral of the deceased gentlemen is appointed to take place this afternoon at two o'clock; and it is understood that besides his professional brethren - by whom he was sincerely respected - his remains will be followed to the grave by members of the University and the Festival Committee. From his late residence the funeral cortege will proceed to Christchurch, where a portion of the burial service will be read, and a short selection from the oratorio of the Messiah sung; the body will then be conveyed to the Cemetery at Newtown, to be placed beside the resting-place of the greatest musical genius that ever came upon our shores - the Chevalier Bocsha. Mr. Poole, out of respect to the deceased gentleman, has closed the Prince of Wales Theatre for this evening, and we are requested to state that, in consequence of the lamented and sudden death of Mr. Lavenu, the Band of the 12th Regiment will not perform in the Botanic Gardens this afternoon.

"DEATH OF MR. L. H. LAVENU. SUPPLEMENTARY NOTICE", Empire (15 August 1859), 8 

"A Christmas Eve's Adventure, AND WHAT CAME OF IT. A TRUE STORY (BY PAUL TWYFORD)", Nepean Times (23 December 1893), 2 

... probably the better to show off the long hair saturated with grease or oil and turned under so as to form a roll low down on the neck. This style of hair dressing was known as "The Lavenu curl," from a musical gentleman of that name who led the orchestra at the "old Vic." theatre, in Pitt-street. The cabbage-tree mob were regular frequenters of the theatres, and Lavenu was a great favourite with them. And they not only imitated his style of dressing his hair but they borrowed his well-known airs and whistled them in the streets. Rough and quarrelsome as these fellows were they had a keen appreciation of music; thus their great admiration for Mr. Robert Farquharson, the great basso, and later on the Howson family ...

Musical works / publications (before Australia)

The new opera entitled Loretta, a tale of Seville, in three acts ... the whole of the music composed by M. Lavenu; the libretto by Alfred Bunn, Esq. (London: printed and published by W. S. Johnson, "Nassau Steam Press," 60, St. Martin's Lane, Charing Cross, London, [1846?]) [wordbook only] (DIGITISED) (DIGITISED)

Links to many digitised non-Australian editions can be browsed, along with Lavenu's Australian editions, here: (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)

Musical works / publications (Australia)

The Hellespont polka ("composed and dedicated to Captain Watts and the officers of the screw steamship Hellespont") ([Sydney: Henry Marsh, 1853]

Cleopatra Polka ("Composed and dedicated to Robert McKean, Esq.") (Sydney: H. Marsh and Co., [1853])

Solo violoncello on airs from Somnambula:

[Advertisement], The Courier (8 October 1853), 3

It reminds me of thee (ballad; "composed expressly for Madame Sara Flower"; "Sung by Madame Sara Flower ... dedicated to Mrs. Stephen H. Marsh") (Sydney: Henry Marsh, [1854])

I cannot sing tonight (ballad; words: Haynes Bailey; composed by Lavenu for his pupil Maria Carandini; "Sung with great success by Madame Carandini") (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1857])

A tribute to Australia (song) (words: F. H. Dicker; for Catherine Hayes)

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (17 October 1854), 1

"MISS HAYES' CHARITY FAREWELL CONCERT", The Sydney Morning Herald (18 October 1854), 5

Serenade (for orchestra; on popular ballads)

[Advertisement], The Argus (1 November 1854), 8

Ida May ("new" "composed by Mr. Lavenu for Mr. White" [of Rainer's Ethiopian Serenaders])

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (11 June 1855), 1

My Molly Asthore ("Ballad (new version) as sung by Catherine Hayes") (Sydney: H. Marsh, 1855; The Australian Cadeau No 17 (22 September 1855)

Molly Asthore ("sung by Miss Catherine Hayes") (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1857?])

Molly Asthore ("Composed for and sung by Miss Catherine Hayes"; with cover portrait of Lavenu and printed signature") ( Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1859]) (Lavenu memorial edition)

Kate Kearney, or the Lakes of Killarney ("The music composed and arranged by M. Lavenu")

[Advertisement], The Argus (21 February 1856), 8

Queen of the West ("In a few days will be published ... both poetry and music, by the late Mr. Lavenu") (composed for Madame Carandini; accompaniment by Charles Packer") (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, 1859)

Once upon a time there were two kings ("The characteristic incidental music composed, selected, and arranged by L. Lavenu, Esq.")

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (15 February 1859), 1

The vocal gems of Il trovatore [Verdi] ("arranged expressly for the publisher by the late L. H. Lavenu")

1 Ah! I have sighed to rest me (Ah! Che la morte); 2 Home to our Mountains (Ai nostri monti); 3 Tempest of the heart (Il balen del suo sorriso); 4 Breeze of the night (D'amor sull ali rosee); 5 Ah! Yes, thou'rt mine (Ah! Si ben mio); 6 In the combat (Mal reggendo) (Sydney: J. R. Clarke, [1859])

Other sources

Bellini's grand opera of Norma, in two acts, as performed at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne ... musical director and conductor, M. L. Lavenu (Melbourne : Wilson, Mackinnon & Fairfax, 1855) 

Rossini's grand opera of The barber of Seville, a lyric comedy, rendered into English by J. Wrey Mould, and produced at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, prima donna - Madame Clarisse Cailly, conductor - M. L. Lavenu (Melbourne: Wilson, Mackinnon & Fairfax, "Argus" Mercantile Printing Office, 1856) [wordbook] 

An English version of The favourite, composed by Donizetti, written and adapted by Edward Fitzball; performed for the first time, at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, under the direction of Mr. L. Lavenu, who has arranged it expressly for this theatre (Melbourne: R. M. Abbott and Co., 1858) 

Prince of Wales Theatre ... An English version of Il trovatore"; or, The gipsy's vengeance, a grand opera in four parts written and adapted by Charles Jeffreys; to the music composed by Verdi; arranged expressly for this theatre by M. Lavenu (Sydney: Printed at the "Caxton" Printing Office, 1859) 

Prince of Wales Theatre ... Ernani, a grand opera seria, in four acts produced under the direction of Monsieur Lavenu (Sydney: Caxton Printing Office, 1859) 

Bibliography and resources

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2019